Randy’s state of grace
There is a sombre, monotone painting resting on the window sill of Randy’s room at Toronto Grace Hospital.
Here’s what it shows: from inside a darkened space there’s a tall, four-pane window. Curtains shroud the glass in a soft white gauze. Daylight penetrates from the other side, but no form is visible, just the contours of the textured fabric. What lies outside is a mystery.
How can Randy get from the darkness of his faltering body into the light that beckons beyond his own hospital window? I’m not sure. It’s such an uncertain journey.
He’s resting now, his breathing regular, his face relaxed. He’s beyond talk – has been for a couple of days. The palliative nurses come and go, adjusting his position and monitoring the steady flow of pain medication. A tube hisses oxygen into his nostrils. He periodically wrestles with his gown and bedclothes. His eyes no longer open, but you wouldn’t exactly call this sleep.
His cancer has entailed some gruelling treatments over the past three years – chemo, radiation, a million needle pricks, numerous scans, and a three-week long stem cell transplant. He has endured nausea, fatigue, infections, shingles, a stroke, an allergic drug reaction, and even a broken foot. He had to face his deepest fear – rooted in the onset of his scoliosis as a 10-year-old boy – of death by suffocation. But this won’t be how his story ends, I know that now.
He’s in repose, his swollen, ascites belly rising and falling with each breath. We wait and we watch. I sense that he’s finding his own way through the shadowy window, drawing the curtain aside and moving out towards the light. He’s doing it with the same grace that has always been his hallmark, and with the courage that these last three years have taught him.
Go forth and fly Randy, without fear or doubt. Everything is going to work out fine. For you, for your family, for the world.
— 2 am, May 11, 2015
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The painting is by Alex Bierk and was given to Randy in the hospital by his friends Joe and Niki Fleming. Alex’s father David Bierk is a celebrated Canadian post-modern painter. David was from Peterborough and was Randy’s high school art teacher. He died in 2002 of cancer, aged 57.